By Ethan Cross
In TELL NO LIES, a book that Anne Rice describes as “Simply brilliant,” a series of anonymous threats intended for others puts a man—and everyone he loves—in the path of a relentless killer.
Daniel Brasher has always been something of a disappointment to his old-money aristocratic San Francisco mother. Daniel left his high-paying job as a money manager to marry his community organizer wife and work at a job he loves, leading group counseling sessions with recently paroled ex-cons. Now he’s ready to move on and start a private practice.
But before he leaves, he finds an envelope in his department mailbox—one intended for someone else that was placed in his slot by accident. Inside it is an unsigned piece of paper, a note that says only “admit what you’ve done or you will bleed for it. you have ’til november 15 at midnite.” The deadline has already passed and the person to whom the envelope was addressed was brutally murdered. But this first warning is only the beginning.
Soon, Daniel finds more warnings in his office mail, to people that the police cannot track down, and to victims that cannot be saved. Daniel’s efforts, however, have alerted the killer to his involvement and next he gets a threat of his own. Now, with the clock ticking, Daniel—with no clue what he’s supposed to have done or to what action he must confess—must somehow appease, or outwit, a seemingly unstoppable killer.
Describe your typical writing day. How do you balance your writing with marketing, editing, plotting, and all other commitments?
One thing that’s gotten harder is that I don’t really have a typical writing day anymore. I am at my desk working from 7am to 5pm at a minimum, with that often getting longer when I’m dealing with deadlines (and certainly during film and TV productions). I do like to focus intensely on one thing – blast through several chapters at once — before turning my focus elsewhere. That’s true on a bigger scale too. I prefer to make a lot of headway on, say, a novel, before turning and hammering out a rough draft of a screenplay. It becomes a bit easier to juggle within a day when I’m in the editing stages.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Eat, movies, eat, soccer, eat, bourbon, tennis, racquetball, softball, watch the Red Sox or SF Giants, eat, hike. I also like to wrestle with my Rhodesian ridgeback, often losing, leading many strangers who see my scratches and bruises to believe I’m a victim of domestic abuse.
As a reader, what are some of your personal pet-peeves? In other words, what’s your list of writing dos and don’ts?
Clichés. Laziness. No sense of pacing—not just when to speed up, but when to slow down. Wooden characters. Dialogue that no one would ever say. Most of all, an unwillingness to let characters breathe, to become real. I can always tell when I’m reading the author rather than reading real writing.
What kind of research did you conduct for TELL NO LIES?
I dug myself back into the city of my birth—San Francisco. I’m annoyed that wherever I travel, I have to defend my adopted city, Los Angeles, against accusations of smog and silicone implants, materialism and quinoa diets—but San Francisco, that’s a city everyone loves. Growing up in the South Bay, I knew San Francisco from a bit of a distance—day trips here and there, longer outings on occasion. But for TELL NO LIES, I finally went back and reacquainted myself with—as we called it growing up—the City. As someone once said, if you get tired walking around San Francisco, you can always lean against it. So I spent lots of time driving and walking and leaning.
This story started with a very simple idea: What if you started getting death threats in the mail—accidentally? What you had knowledge of life-or-death deadlines intended for other people?
Now when writing about a place, it’s best if you have a story that could only take place there. And this death-threat scenario that came to me dealt with class and race, which function differently in San Francisco than anywhere else. And as this notion evolved, I realized it was finally the story that would take me home.
I also had to learn a lot about group therapy, particularly for violent offenders. Before my story begins, my guy Daniel Brasher has given up his job managing the portfolio of his (insanely affluent) family to become a therapist running group therapy for recently paroled offenders. Rapists, bank heist members, killers. It’s as severe a transition as you can imagine. But he loves it—loves the adrenaline, loves the charge of trying to break through the walls of his clients, loves the way that any spark in that room can explode into violence. And I had to build those characters, make them real and human despite their immense flaws, so to do that, I had to spend a lot of time dreaming and thinking, reading case studies, and talking to shrinks.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books/authors and who has had the greatest influence upon your own work?
I just finished reading THE BROKEN SHORE by Peter Temple, a magnificent piece of work. I love Crais and Lehane, Lethem and Franzen. Megan Abbott is a new favorite. Thomas Harris had a big effect on me, as did Stephen King. My biggest influence was probably Shakespeare; I studied the tragedies a lot and I believe they provide a beautiful example of how riveting thrillers can function.
What’s something that you’ve learned about the publishing business that you weren’t expecting?
How hard it is. I sold my first book at a pretty young age—I was twenty-two or twenty-three—and while I was hugely excited and appreciative, I also didn’t realize just how goddamned lucky I was. It’s a tough business and you need a lot of help from the right people at the right time and lot of luck as well to make it. I am more appreciative every year for what I get to do each day.
Do you have any advice for aspiring (or struggling) writers out there?
Don’t worry about agents. Don’t worry about publishing, or e-publishing, or self-publishing. Worry about writing the best book you possibly can, then use that as a starting point for your editing process. You need to deliver something undeniably blow-the-doors-off-the-car great. Get there first. The other stuff’ll take care of itself.
Also, the more ass-in-chair time, the better.
Lastly, good luck!
Gregg Hurwitz is the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of 13 thrillers, most recently, TELL NO LIES (8/20). His novels have been shortlisted for numerous literary awards, graced top ten lists, and have been translated into 22 languages.
He has also written comics for Marvel (Wolverine, Punisher) and DC (Batman, Penguin) and produced and written screenplays for film and television (ABC’s “V”, “Expulsion” spec script to Warner Bros, and many more). He recently announced that he will be developing his Tim Rackley books for TNT/Sony. Gregg resides in Los Angeles.
To learn more about Gregg, please visit his website.